The best advice I can give women who want to be successful in business is to focus on the success part and not so much on the woman part. Don’t define who you are or where you want to make your mark according to gender. I never have. Instead, I would ask: do you have skills, experience, intelligence, passion, commitment, integrity and deeply held values? These are the marks of a true leader, male or female.
One quality that’s absolutely essential for leadership today (in business or in life) is integrity, which we think of as meaning honesty and reliability. But in the dictionary you’ll find the first meaning of integrity is ‘wholeness’: nothing missing, nothing left out. And I think that’s the richer, more valuable definition for leaders. It means that, to lead with integrity, we must be whole human beings, bring our whole selves to the role.
I would also say that international experience—whether by background or career path—is increasingly important for leaders. The future of business is global: that’s where the markets, the customers, the suppliers, and the partners are. Because there are still relatively few people who bring such experience, if you are the person who steps forward to take an international opportunity, you will be arming yourself with an incredible advantage. Work in another country gives you tremendous confidence when, despite language and cultural differences, you are still able to get the work done. The challenge is greater, and so too is the satisfaction when you work through issues to success.
As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse and multinational, successful leaders will be those who can truly respect people’s differences, value their distinct contributions, and inspire them to greater collaboration. You have an advantage if you don’t have a desire to win exclusively on your own terms. Too much ego can get in the way, making you afraid to lose. You will always be more successful when you seek consensus; help your partners and colleagues find ways to create more together than any of you can envision alone.
My career path has taken some unlikely twists and turns out of my background in finance. I was always willing to say: “I’ll try that!” when new opportunities appeared, and that’s something I encourage others to do. Step up and grab the risky, the challenging, the unexpected opportunities. Be prepared for change—thrive in it! And be eager for experiences that will lead you outside your comfort zone. That’s what gives you breadth of experience and positions you for leadership.